Nioh – Alpha Demo Impressions

So what do you get when you mix Dark Souls, Onimusha and the handsome dude from The Witcher? Give up? Well I’m sure you’ve guessed from the heading of the article, but for those still interested, you get Nioh.   For those who haven’t heard much about this game, which is currently on the PSN store as a limited time alpha demo (you’ve until the 5th of May to play), Nioh was a game that has taken many years to develop and assumed many forms. Playing similarly to the Souls series in that it’s a 3rd person action game where you fight enemies with precise actions, scavenge equipment, level up with currency which is lost on death, winding locations cleverly laid out with hidden shortcuts, and has sporadic stations where your character spends currency and heals up – which in turn re-spawns most enemies in the level.

Nioh Alpha Demo_20160503224619

Nioh Alpha Demo_20160503224619

The first and most obvious point of difference is the visuals. Set in the 17th century Japan it’s very reminiscent of Onimusha, a game that I’ve been craving an update for, for years … with the main character looking like a more bulky Geralt from the Witcher series. The next major difference is how you control the character and fight and what seems to be the major cause of complaints from what I’ve seen and read of other reactions on the interwebs.   Let me give you my impressions of my first few hours of play (keep in mind I’m a Souls vet and currently playing through Dark Souls 3): So with the game loaded and basics of movement down, I found the game to feel a lot faster than Souls… more in tune with Bloodborne for speed. The visuals were nice enough in the starting area but some of the animations were a little janky and it felt kinda awkward to draw your first weapon, a basic katana, and time your attacks. Spotting the first grunt to slay, I must admit I thought the game felt VERY unfinished. A couple of swipes with the sword and I’m out of stamina – the character keels over to catch his breath, the grunt swipes back and I’m dead. Two hits and I’m out. Was this a balance issue? (Spoilers: no) Nioh-notgeralt It was at this point it decided to try and unlearn a lot of how I’m playing Souls as this IS a different game. It stand to rights that it should play differently. Okay, mindset changed, brain on and hands ready. My second attempt saw my fight more cautiously to much better effect. You see, the enemies in this game have a stamina bar, just like you do. When they attack, they expend said stamina. The key to success, I quickly learned, was to tire the enemy out and strike back when they have little chance to respond. Good-oh, now we’re getting somewhere.   Next up is the actual fighting techniques. Nioh gives you four stances which you can change between: Low, Mid, High and neutral. Low being faster but weaker attacks, High slower but stronger and mid is in between and usually horizontal swipes. The neutral stance pops your weapon away. Also available on the technique menu is a standard block or guard and the ability to equip a bow which can both be fired on the fly or aimed. Two more methods to go. The D-Pad can be assigned healing items, throwing consumables and change quick-swap your main weapon, if you’ve equipped more than two. The last technique, which took my ages to figure out, as that your stamina, or Ki, can be managed with correctly timed button presses of the “change stance” button. As you swipe, you’ll notice the Ki meter drop but a portion will be greyed out for a moment, before clearing. If pressed at the right time, the change-stance button can restore a good amount of Ki back. This is also represent visually if you don’t want to be staring at health bars – which is super nifty IMO. I won’t go into much more detail to keep this article at a reasonable size and I’m sure some of the mechanics may change a little come release.

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Come at me bro!

Putting all that together, you get a very complex fighting system which I think I like more than Souls. I know it’s early but I’m hooked. It started off as an “hmm, I dunno about this” to “ermagerd err weernt merr” kind of game. It definitely needs to be tested and learned, much like Souls, to get the most of it. As to retort ones complaints about dying to quickly – git gud. After a couple of runs and finding some okay armour, taking damage isn’t so bad. By the end of the first stage I could happily take 6 – 10 swipes before falling. The variety of weapons, though limited to katana, axe, spear, ninjitsu and magicky stuff, hasn’t concerned me at all as the levelling system is also different. Sure you level up to increase stats, but then you acquire points to learn new techniques and buff to the different weapon styles, much like and skill tree RPG.

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(Lightning) Puppy Power!

Oh, I forgot to mention the most important feature of Nioh… you have companion spirit animals which, when available, can be activated to make you invincible and super damaging for a very limited time. I had so much fun unleashing my lightning puppy on hapless Oni, bring the fury of my fire fox onto stupid grunts who dare brandish their blades towards me, and set forth the power of my glowing shark upon the massive Demon monkey/tiger/snake thing to claim victory. The animal effects look cool and can wait to see what the full release brings.   So I think I’ll leave it there. If you haven’t played the game yet, quickly download it and give it a go while you still can. Please, stick with it and learn the stamina system – it’s a great alternative to the shield up, poke, dodge style of the Souls series.   My appetite is whet for Nioh and now the wait begins…

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